How 'Sarah Starbucks' built a career as region's top construction snapper

Sarah Toon's work as a construction photographer has taken her across the country.

Sarah Toon's work as a construction photographer has taken her across the country. It began with a voluntary assignment documenting the work on the Wells Maltings. - Credit: Sarah Toon

Keen photographers seeking subjects are understandably drawn to Norfolk's beaches, landscapes and wildlife. 

But a woman from the North Walsham area has found beauty in a different facet of life - raw materials on building sites and the final products that result. 

s wells maltings Picture Sarah Toon Photography

The modern face of the Wells Maltings. Renovation work on the building was Sarah toon's first big assignment in construction photography. - Credit: Sarah Toon Photography

Sarah Toon, 48, is the only qualified construction photographer in East Anglia, and it has become a job she relishes. 

Mrs Toon said: "I've learned a lot about how buildings are made - and seeing the skeleton of a structure that nobody will ever see again before it is all cladded and painted. It's quite a privilege to go in and see that building in all its guts and glory."

Construction work taking place on the new Wells Maltings. Picture: Sarah Toon Photography

Photographing work on transform Wells Maltings was Sarah toon's first big assignment in construction photography. - Credit: Sarah Toon Photography

Since she started on her journey towards construction photography eight years ago, Mrs Toon's work has taken her across the country, capturing on camera everything from the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station to motorway branches of Starbucks. 

Mrs Toon said: "When I was at school I wanted to be an architect but the long apprenticeship put me off, so I've always had an eye for architecture. 

Photographing work on transform Wells Maltings was Sarah toon's first big assignment in construction photography. 

inside the Wells Maltings. Renovation work on the building was Sarah toon's first big assignment in construction photography. - Credit: Sarah Toon

"I used to be a practice manager at my husband's accountancy firm. I had always been a good amateur photographer and I wanted to become professional.

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"I thought there must be more to life than this and I literally fell into construction."

Her break came with the redevelopment of the Wells Maltings, a £4 million project which was finished in 2018.

Sarah Toon's work as a construction photographer has taken her onto building sites across the country.

Sarah Toon's work as a construction photographer has taken her onto building sites across the country. - Credit: Sarah Toon

Mrs Toon said: "I was approached by the Wells Maltings Trust, and they asked if I would be interested in being a photographer for the construction, free of charge. 

"They had approached several others who said no, and I thought I'd take a bit of a gamble, and that's when I fell in love with construction."

Sarah Toon's work as a construction photographer has taken her onto building sites across the country.

Sarah Toon's work as a construction photographer has taken her onto building sites across the country. - Credit: Sarah Toon

Mrs Toon visited the site every month for a year-and-a-half until its reopening, and saw the Grade-II listed building transform from a shell into a state-of-the-art community hub and theatre, while retaining its valued heritage features. 

"Off the back of that I was asked to work for the surveyors and buildings," she said. 

Sarah Toon's work as a construction photographer has taken her onto building sites across the country.

Sarah Toon's work as a construction photographer has taken her onto building sites across the country. - Credit: Sarah Toon

"Then I started getting contacted by other construction and structural engineering companies and it all led from there."

Mrs Toon set out to get her 'construction card' issued by the Construction Skills Certification Scheme, which allows people to work on building sites. 

sarah toon

Sarah Toon's work as a construction photographer has taken her across the country. - Credit: Sarah Toon

Among the many sites in London she has photographed is the Battersea Power Station - a huge site mostly built in the 1930s and now redeveloped into a residential, retail and entertainment complex. 

She does not use tripods, which are rarely practical on building sites, and outsources when drone shots are required as she does not pilot one herself. 

Mrs Toon said: "I work for a construction company based in Cheltenham, who have many facilities placed on their land - Starbucks, Costas, storage units. I travel all over the country and some people call me 'Sarah Starbucks' because I've photographed so many.

"I absolutely love my job. I get asked to do all sorts of things - I'm either knee-deep in mud or out on a site photographing whatever, sometimes in heavy rain, snow or blasting sunshine."

Mrs Toon is a member of the Royal Photographic Society and the Society of International Commercial and Industrial Photographers.

Other the other buildings in Norfolk she has photographed professionally are the Norwich Bus Station and the new East Anglian Air Ambulance centre at Norwich Airport - images which she gifted to the charity. 

*Do you know someone with an interesting job that could be featured in this newspaper? Email stuart.anderson@archant.co.uk